Minister Rishworth on ABC AM with Sabra Lane


Topics: Launch of Safe and Supported Action Plans 

SABRA LANE, HOST: It's not just Alice Springs where young people are vulnerable. You might be astonished to know that across Australia more than 45,000 children are in out-of-home care, unable to live with their families. That's enough kids to fill the Gabba Stadium in Brisbane and 43 per cent of them are First Nations children. Today, two action plans are being launched aimed at reducing the rate of child abuse and neglect. One is specifically tailored for Indigenous kids and all state and territory governments, along with First Nations groups, have been involved. Amanda Rishworth is the Federal Social Services Minister and we spoke earlier. Amanda Rishworth, what real difference will these plans make to children at risk within the next three years?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, MINISTER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES: These plans have been developed along with states and territories and it is really about how we change the system to ensure that the trajectory of a child that may be looking at coming into contact with the child protection system, is much better. And so what this has done is taken the voices of families; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders that work in this area, and it has embedded some key actions to try and change the trajectory. Of course one of those aims is reducing the number of children in out-of-home care through a focus on prevention and early intervention. But it is also about making sure that those that do enter out-of-home care actually have a child-centred approach, but that their interests are at the centre of decision making and that is really important. That is a strong message we got from many groups and organisations for kids in out-of-home care.

SABRA LANE: What's the evidence now about their life prospects, of living a productive, healthy life?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: We know for many of these children they are less likely to get employed, they're less likely to get a good education and can be more likely to be connected with the criminal justice system. We recognise that in some circumstances, that for some children, there's no choice – that for their safety they end up in out-of-home care. But importantly in these Action Plans, it actually takes into consideration, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, how we make sure that their culture, their connection to community is continued if they do end up in out-of-home care. And that's really important for a sense of identity and a sense of, place. Now, states and territories have taken quite a big leap. They have agreed to delegate authority to some of this decision-making, particularly for Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander people, to Aboriginal controlled organisations and that in some instances will require legislation. That is a really important step and something that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations had been calling for. So there is a real change in the approach of how we do this to try and turn around that trajectory.

SABRA LANE: Alright, there's already a Closing The Gap target to reduce the number of Indigenous children in out-of-home care by 45 per cent by 2031, but in the past three years more children have actually been placed into care rather than fewer. What's it going to take to reverse that trend?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: It's not going to be a changed overnight, but we do need to do things differently. I think that is the clear message. What we've done in the past hasn't worked and we do need to do things differently. One of the key elements to developing these Action Plans is that this we didn't just consult with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders. They were actually integral in the decision making to these Action Plans. So they sat around and they signed off on these actions because they believed these things would make a difference. We need to be focused on doing the things that work. We need to be making sure that we're investing in Aboriginal Controlled Organisations. We need to be investing in the workforce and making sure that we have a sustainable workforce to deliver the interventions that work. There's a number of areas of focus that we need to really develop going forward, and that's what this plan does.

SABRA LANE: Indigenous leaders have said part of the reason why we're seeing this anti-social behaviour and crime in Alice Springs right now is because it's one of those childcare desert areas where children don't have access to early childhood education or trained staff or early intervention. Will these frameworks address that?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, certainly when it comes to Alice Springs, I know that the Commonwealth is working very closely with some of the acute issues, but of course it does come down to the early years and making sure that the investment is done in the early years. Our Government certainly has a track record of investing. It is about prevention as well and that is a focus of these Action Plans. For example, the Commonwealth has committed to investing in innovative solutions. We've committed to investing in parenting support as part of these Action Plans. So these are certainly investments we need to do and we know we need to do it early on. And that's what this framework does is make sure that we're making those investments in that space as well.

SABRA LANE: What extra money and how many appropriately trained staff will that require to make this happen? And will there be more money in the budget this year?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: At this point, this is a collective effort between states, territories and the Commonwealth. Obviously, in the October budget, we committed $30 million to support Safe and Supported for a number of different initiatives. In terms of the workforce, this is a challenge to make sure there is a skilled workforce. And part of the actions is to develop a national approach to building a sustainable workforce. So that's what we will continue to work with our states and territory colleagues on.

SABRA LANE: Minister, thanks for your time.